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Taiwan’s OwlTing taps blockchain to improve food safety

The e-commerce company is using blockchain technology to provide consumers with greater transparency on food sources and production processes

Taiwanese e-commerce company OwlTing has integrated blockchain technology into its supply chain infrastructure in a bid to improve food safety for consumers.

The technology, believed to be the first of its kind, is based on Ethereum, an open-source distributed public blockchain network that supports a variety of applications beyond peer-to-peer payments.

OwlTing said with OwlChain, food suppliers will be able to use blockchain technology and application programming interfaces on a tamper-resistant food provenance system that provides consumers with information on each step of the production and distribution process.

The idea for OwlChain arose out of mounting concerns on food safety in Taiwan, where consumers have called for greater transparency in food supply chains and better food quality control.

In November 2016, the expiry dates of frozen seafood products sold by a Taiwan-based distributor were found to be tampered with. In 2014, the island was also plagued by a spate of cooking-oil scandals.

Two Taiwanese food suppliers, Nice Garden and Upwelling Ocean, have signed up for OwlChain so far. According to OwlTing, more suppliers, including Taiwan Agricultural Global Marketing, Sinhong Soy Sauce, Ming-Chuan Dairy Farm and With Heart Meat Shop, are expected to come onboard.

The company is also looking at using OwlChain to support other sectors and commercial activities, such as logistics and trading of fine ingredients.

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Founded by a group of engineers led by Darren Wang, a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley and former Google employee, OwlTing specialises in selling natural and organic food products from suppliers that have undergone a stringent onboarding process.

“We are extremely meticulous when it comes to food,” said Wang. “Product with additives, artificial colouring or flavouring cannot be sold on OwlTing. While this business approach may seem unwise and cumbersome, our approach has identified over 1,500 farmers and merchants, and that's just in Taiwan.”

Thomas Hu, founder and CEO of Kyber Capital and an investor of OwlTing, noted that blockchain-based supply-chain network services are getting more attention from internet and fintech investors around the globe. “Kyber will continue to help OwlChain commercialise and expand to global markets,” he said.

Taiwan is fast becoming a hotbed of blockchain developments. In December 2016, Microsoft partnered Taiwanese blockchain technology provider Amis to form Asia’s first blockchain consortium in an effort to lower blockchain transaction costs and speed up settlements.

Dodoker securing donations using blockchain

In April 2017, non-profit crowdfunding platform Dodoker implemented blockchain technology to secure donations from the public. Dodoker’s co-founder Roger Chuang said this will help to improve trust between donors and non-profit organisations.

Despite the promises of blockchain, industry watchers have pointed out some challenges that need to be addressed before widespread adoption of the technology can take place.

These include the possibility that public ledgers can be hacked, as well as collusion by all participants in a blockchain network to manipulate ledgers through fraudulent transactions.

“This might be an issue in a relatively small network without proper vetting procedures,” consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said in its Financial Services Technology 2020 and Beyond report. “We also see a need to address security limitations with linked technologies, like the external systems that monitor events to trigger blockchain transactions once conditions have been met.”

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